Brown steers clear of Dems as election nears

by James Poulos | October 10, 2014 10:11 am

Jerry Brown, Prop. 1 adState Democrats haven’t had much luck in securing the biggest show of support in California — Gov. Jerry Brown.

As he gears up for the final stretch of his bid for an unprecedented fourth term in office, Brown has chosen to focus closely on his own fortunes and his own political brand. Rather than stumping around the Golden State, as Democrats have hoped, Brown has largely bowed out of his party’s push to reclaim a legislative supermajority in Sacramento.

Bucking the trend

Despite Democrats’ dominant position, the party’s worries have extended to the top of its state leadership. The new state Senate leader, Kevin de Leon, D-Los Angeles, recently revealed his concerns to the Los Angeles Times. Although he did not shed any light on party leaders’ “negotiations” with the Brown camp, de Leon admitted[1] he was “actively pursuing the governor to make appearances.” Sizing up his party’s challenges, de Leon said the upcoming election was “going to be the most challenging in more than a decade, so we absolutely have our work cut out for us.”

Democrats have fretted this year over a series of scandals, disagreements and internal divisions that have blunted the force of their policy agenda. On a growing number of issues, especially the influence of teachers’ unions, Democrats have taken contrasting positions.

The race for Superintendent of Public Instruction pits two Democrats — incumbent Tom Torlakson and challenger Marshall Tuck — against one another in an officially nonpartisan contest that has unofficially split key figures within the party into two surprisingly hostile camps.

In that kind of uncertain atmosphere, the rallying influence of a strong governor with substantial popular support would be a much-needed political balm. Brown, however, has not governed predictably, and his sometimes idiosyncratic approach toward his own party has created discomfort among Democrats who now must plead for his public support.

In advancing California’s high-speed rail project, for instance, Brown provoked irritation and concern among progressive environmentalists by diverting cap-and-trade fee revenue away from climate mitigation efforts toward the train’s infrastructure requirements — an investment that would not lessen carbon emissions for perhaps decades.

In light of Brown’s apparent determination to stray from the reliable ideological confines of his party’s far left, or its more moderate pro-business center, his hesitancy to take to the stump this election season makes his relative silence understandable.

Handpicked exceptions

Reluctance notwithstanding, Brown has chosen to take a handful of carefully chosen actions in the run-up to November. Perhaps most notably, although he has not taken to the stump on her behalf, Brown has pointedly endorsed Libby Schaaf, a candidate in the crowded race to replace Oakland Mayor Jean Quan. (Voters have soured on the incumbent Quan, but her challengers have failed to catch voters’ enthusiasm.) Schaaf, a councilwoman in the city where Brown was a popular mayor for eight years, also worked for Brown.

As the San Francisco Chronicle pointed[2] out, Brown’s past endorsements have not necessarily made or broken the campaigns of candidates he supported. Still, at a time when his public favor is so strongly coveted, Brown’s choice to endorse Schaaf underscored his approach to November and beyond. Close friends and allies will be embraced, if somewhat quietly. Others may have to wait for a gift that will never come.

Meanwhile, Brown has turned his eye on his legacy and the state’s future. Sidestepping a brewing scandal involving PG&E’s cozy ties to regulators, Brown announced[3] he returned campaign contributions from six of the utility’s officials.

And in his first ad buy of the season, Brown has chosen to push Propositions 1 and 2, the ballot measures that would secure his sought-after water bond and rainy-day fund. In the ads[4], Brown does not even mention his bid for reelection.

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